11 Plastic Free Reef Safe Sunscreens

By Posted on 6 min read

It goes without saying that sunscreen is an essential staple in even the most minimal skincare routine. After all, we want to protect our precious skin from burns and damage! And with it being the dead of summer in North America, what better time to re-think our sunscreens in this hot summer, sun! Note: sunscreens are still important all year long, but they are definitely more prevalent in the summer months for most of us. In this list, we will cover 11 options for plastic free and reef safe sunscreen!

Sunscreen also might be the most difficult skincare product to find across the board. Finding one that checks the boxes of quality and ease of use are tough! Generally we look for sunscreens that do not feel heavy, greasy, or overly scented, they shouldn’t leave that mineral “white cast”, should be easy to apply AND effective.

Another extremely important things to look for when purchasing sunscreen is that it is Reef Safe. What does this mean? Well, in recent years, coral reefs and marine life have been significantly impacted by chemicals found in sunscreens in the water.

More About Reef Safety…

Tons of sunscreen washes into the ocean every year (about 14,000 tons!), causing coral bleaching and aquatic damage – even at relatively low concentrations. Coral bleaching means that the algae and corals’ symbiotic relationship is compromised – the colorful algae will move away from damaged coral, leaving it vulnerable, bleached, and stressed to survive. It is estimated that about 70% of the coral reefs on earth have experienced some bleaching in the last six years, caused mostly by climate change and pollution. Coral reefs are critical for our aquatic ecosystems, as they balance a vibrant and delicate ecosystem of aquatic life that that entire planet relies on!

The good news is: at least we can choose better sunscreen and that’s a start! The US National Park Service recommends avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone and use ONLY mineral based sunscreens. But let’s also avoid the ingredients below for good measure:

Avoid These Sunscreen Ingredients:

  • Mineral Oil: Derived from petroleum, not biodegradable, and unsafe for marine life.
  • Oxybenzone: A chemical ingredient and maybe the worst offender. Damaging to coral reefs and acts as a hormone disrupter.
  • Octinoxate: A chemical ingredient that damages coral reefs, and contributes to reproductive and thyroid harm.
  • Octisalate: Yet another chemical ingredient that damages coral reefs and can accumulate in our bodies.
  • Avobensoze: Chemical ingredients, common irritant, not effective (only provides 30 min of sun protection due to its fast breakdown once applied).
  • Retinyl Palmitate: Also known as Vitamin A, problematic on skin in combination with sun exposure. Causes free radicals and sun damage.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a perfectly safe sunscreen yet and scientists are still studying the effects of mineral-based sunscreens (zinc + titanium dioxide) on the environment. But those are our best options right now!

And why not go one step further and also avoid plastic packaging too. That’s right, we’re looking at 11 plastic free, reef safe sunscreens, without the dicey aforementioned ingredients to keep you and the planet safe! Let’s get into it:

1. Little Hands Hawaii

Photo: Little Hands Hawaii

Made in Hawaii in a recyclable metal tin and biodegradable label. SPF 35+ and 80 minutes water resistant. Available in regular and tinted, in both tins and compostable tubes.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, Local Beeswax, Vitamin E Oil, Elderberry and Frankincense Essential Oil.  

2. Raw Elements

Photo: Raw Elements

Raw Elements offers their plastic free and reef safe option in a recyclable tin! Made with non nano zinc and packed with organic ingredients – it’s also completely biodegradable and water resistant. Also available in zero waste cardboard tubes!

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non Nano Zinc Oxide (23%)

Inactive :  Sunflower Oil*, Green Tea*, Black Tea*, Coffee Bean*, Hemp Seed Oil*, Cocoa Butter*, Mango Butter**, Beeswax*, Rosemary Oil Extract**, Vitamin E** * USDA Certified Organic ** Certified Natural

3. Eir NYC

Photo: Eco Collective

Eir NYC offers a variety of sun products, in tins, tubes and sprays. Earth Mud is their tin version: water resistant, reef safe and only seven ingredients!

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Beeswax, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter*, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Fruit Powder*, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate

4. Sea & Summit

Photo: Sea & Summit

How cute are these sticks from Sea & Summit?!? Completely plastic free, it offers maximum sun protection while being non greasy. Their tinted version uses clay for coloring and extra skin protection. Also made in the USA with organic ingredients.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, cosmetic grade

Inactive : Organic Alpha Extract, Organic Beeswax, Cedarwood & Lavender Essential Oils, Organic Carnauba Wax, Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Lanolin, Organic Olive oil, Old Rose Clay, Organic Sesame Seed Oil, Organic Shea Butter,  Vitamin E, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxide (less than 1%)

5. Apothecary Muse

Photo: Apothecary Muse

Incredibly eco chic looking, Apothecary Muse stick is portable and super convenient for travel and outdoor adventures. They carry two scents, as well as an unscented variety.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba*) Oil, Shorea Stenoptera (Illipe) Butter, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Zinc Oxide (Non-Nano Zinc) Powder, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Powder, Rosa Canina (Rose Hip*) Seed Oil, Eucalyptus Citriodora (Lemon Eucalyptus) Oil, Daucus Carota (Carrot*) Seed Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Oil, Juniperus Virginiana (Cedarwood) Oil, Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Oil, Nepeta Cataria (Catnip) Oil, Azadirachta Indica (Neem*) Oil. *Organic

6. Surf Dirt

Photo: Surf Dirt

Surf Dirt is packaged in an awesome reusable bamboo container with an aluminum interior. Hooray for that! Not to mention, it is 80 minutes water resistant, cruelty free, and made in USA. Available in tinted, white, or in aluminum only packaging.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Cocoa Butter, Coconut Oil, Jojoba Oil*, Avocado Oil, Beeswax, Beeswax Derivative, Mango Butter, Vitamin E, Iron Oxide Pigment, *All Ingredients Certified Organic

  

7. Dirty Hippie

Photo: Dirty Hippie

Zero waste in three sizes by Dirty Hippie! Their zinc and coconut based formula also uses fair trade and organic ingredients. All are toxin-free in either a tin or eco tube and reef safe.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Virgin Coconut Oil*, Shea Liquid*, Shea Butter*, Cocoa Butter*, Non-micronised Zinc Oxide, Candelilla Wax*, Carnauba Wax*, Carrot Seed, Raspberry Seed* and Wheatgerm Oils*, Natural Vitamin E, Steam Distilled Lime Essential Oil. (Certified Organic*) 

8. All Good

Photo: All Good

Natural sunscreen? All Good! I love this one for being plastic free, GMO free, Leaping Bunny certified, USDA organic, USA made, tinted, and SPF 50. It is also a certified B Corp and very widely available in the States.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide (25%)

Inactive : Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Organic Cera Alba (Beeswax)*, Organic Calendula Officinalis Flowers* infused in Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Iron Oxides (CI 77491), Iron Oxides (CI 77499), Octyldodecanol, Trihydroxystearin, Non-GMO Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Yellow Iron Oxide. *Certified organic ingredients

9. Raw Love

Photo: Raw Love

Plant based and organic, Raw Love was founded in Hawaii and made for active outdoor adventures! Loving this broad spectrum and portable option for the outdoor enthusiast in all of us.

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Cold Pressed Coconut Oil, Raw Shea Butter, Sesame Oil, Jojoba Oil, Beeswax, Vitamin E Oil, Carrot Seed Oil, Essential Oils of: Lavender, Peppermint, and Eucalyptus

10. Butterbean Organics

Photo: Butterbean Organics

Organic, plastic free, and water resistant, this tin sunscreen from Butterbean is top rated by the Environmental Working Group. And it is made with local beeswax, giving a slightly sweet scent!

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Uncoated Zinc Oxide (22%)

Inactive : * Cocos Nucifera, *Cera Alba, *Butyrospermum Parkii (Fair Trade Shea) Butter, *Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E), Polyhydroxystearic Acid
*Certified Organic 

11. Suntribe

Photo: Suntribe

A beautiful zinc sunscreen tin from Suntribe. It boasts one of the shortest ingredient lists and is very sweat + water resistant, due to the use of beeswax and zinc. Cacao gives it a slight tint and makes it easy to blend in. Also available in a plastic free tube!

INGREDIENTS:

Active: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide.

Inactive : Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Cera Alba (Beeswax)*, Theobroma Cacao Seed Powder*. *Organic

That’s all for now! I hope this list helps you make a more sustainable choice next time you’re in the market for sunscreen!

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11 Plastic Free Reef Safe Sunscreens